The first presidential debate on September 26 attracted a record 84 million viewers. I was one of them.
Another sizable audience is predicted to watch the second presidential debate tonight. I will not be one of them — nor will my wife or my kids.
The lewdness factor of the election reached new heights this weekend, and it has been suggested that tonight’s debate should be rated R and prefaced with a parental advisory warning. Mud will be slung (and there’s never been more mud to sling). Ratings will be high again.
We are troubled by the personalities and we are troubled by their policies — and when you add those two features together, many Christians are simply withdrawing themselves from both major candidates and both major parties.
If it feels odd to withdraw support like this from such a major American institution, you’re not alone. Writer and hip-hop artist Sho Baraka recently opened a powerful op-ed piece by writing, “As a black Christian in an urban environment, I consciously struggle to give my allegiance to either political party. In this way, this election gives many white evangelicals a sense of what it’s like to be a black believer in America today.”
The 2016 election is giving a lot of us a taste of displacedness. Perhaps like never before in this country, for black and white evangelicals alike, there’s a new feeling of un-belonging. But it’s not a shrugging cynicism. Under the political disillusionment, we are all finding ways of voicing concerns for the welfare of our nation. We are displaced, yes, but we are not separatists.
Believers in Babylon
About 2,600 years ago, under the shadow of a pagan superpower, another believer felt this same pinch: Daniel, a godly man living in exile in the Babylonian empire, a nation which traced its origin back to the rebel egotropolis, Babel. Yet in spite of his disagreement with Babylon’s policies, Daniel gave his life to serve the nation.
The book of Daniel is thoroughly political, revealing the power of God’s sovereign undertow beneath the tides of world politics, and all for the sake of his chosen people. Even as his people endured exile in Babylon, God sovereignly governed the world’s political leaders — raising, dropping, and reordering political powers for millennia (Daniel 2:21).
Into this pagan society, Daniel fought to balance his loyal service to Babylon with his ultimate obedience to God. And what he needed was a transhistorical vision of God’s rule over the nations. He got it in the form of a dream from the restless sleep of Babylon’s king, Nebuchadnezzar.
In Daniel 2:36–45, we read about a giant statue of a man that towered perhaps one-hundred feet in the air and glistened brilliantly in the noonday sun.
The dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar. The interpretive key was given to Daniel.
The statue was a stack of nations, said Daniel. The metal man was capped with Babylon (represented in the gold head), placed atop Medo-Persia (the silver torso and arms), placed atop Greece (the bronze belly and thighs), and placed atop Rome at the bottom (the legs of iron and feet of clay). This layered statue represented a succession of the world’s four great superpowers from Daniel’s day into the future, all stacked vertically and cemented together (Hamilton, 330).
Then it toppled.
The statue was targeted by a stone, which flew into the dream like a comet, smashed into the statue’s feet, and, on impact, shattered the entire statue like safety glass. With one blow, the statue exploded into a pile of rubble, pulverized into a heap of human superpower dust, barely hitting the ground before the wind blew it all away into oblivion.
The small meteoric stone, now on the ground, began to grow and expand into a mountain that covered the entire earth — the image of a new and unshakable kingdom now spread out over every continent, displacing all the world’s superpowers in history.
The fall of this giant man-statue is meant to remind us of David’s sling-whirling, Goliath-defeating precedent. In both cases, the world’s powers must fall before the reign of a Davidic king.
Return of the King
This theatrical dream triggers a future history: a new king will establish God’s global reign over creation (the mountain). Later in the book, God gave Daniel a dream of his own, ushering him into a divine throne room of stunning imagery to see “the Ancient of Days” presiding over a glorious coronation anointing, over “one like a son of man” (Daniel 7:9–13).
This king, this “son of man,” entered in to receive his Cosmic Commission: to reign over all the peoples and nations and languages of the earth, to be globally adored in glory, and to be obeyed by all peoples.
The Davidic symbolism of chapter two, and now the introduction of this “son of man” in Daniel 7, combine to reveal the connection to Christ. Jesus would use this “son of man” phrase about eighty times in the Gospels: to reference his own authority, to reference his own need to suffer and die, and most importantly, to communicate his future glorified majesty and authority (NDBT, 236).
Christ found ample opportunities to tie all the major features of his Messianic purposes back to the throne room scene in Daniel 7. His words remind us that God’s agenda reigns on debate night — and every night.
The Politics of Jesus
The throne-room coronation scene in Daniel 7:13–14 is striking for helping us understand Christ’s self-revelation, and for understanding our mission as Christians, in a world of confusion. To make the connections, we need to set the “Cosmic Commission” of Christ in Daniel 7:13–14 alongside the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28:18–20.